Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Via National Review, an interesting debate on Can Islam reform itself?

The dueling protagonists:

Andrew C. McCarthy & Mansoor Ijaz

Landmines Under Trucks

Leftist polemicist Arundhati Roy compares inviting President Bush to India with inviting a brick to drop through your windshield !!

Her words are, typically, clever in form -- ridiculous in substance.

While she was busy sharpening her spiteful words, her ideological allies on the extreme left were busy plotting murder.

Via BBC, 'Many dead' in India rebel attack

At least 25 people have been killed after Maoist rebels blew up two trucks carrying civilians in India's central state of Chhattisgarh, police say.

Senior state police official SK Paswan said the number of dead could rise. Many of the nearly 40 injured were in a critical condition, he told the BBC.

And who were the victims of this carnage?

The victims were tribal people returning from a meeting called to protest against the Maoists' activities in the state.

The terrorists on the left are now killing the very people whose rights they claim they are protecting through such violence. Killing the weak and the poor is their attempt at garnering cheap publicity for their lost cause.

Ms. Roy has aversion to bricks through windshields. She's, however, unlikely to say much about landmines under trucks. What a disgrace.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Musharraf's Plight

Stratfor weighs in on the General's predicament.

Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has called for a March 1 meeting of Pakistan's National Security Council (NSC) to discuss the consequences of nationwide protests against the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in European newspapers, the Lahore-based Daily Times reported Feb. 27.

That Musharraf is summoning the country's top political body -- comprising Pakistan's senior-most civil and military leaders -- after days of demonstrations centering on the Mohammed caricatures indicates two things. First, the issue is no longer about the cartoons, as the protest organizers, mostly Islamist groups, have used the controversy to begin mobilizing anti-government sentiment to enhance their political standing against Musharraf's government. Second, it reveals that the Musharraf government is in a predicament where it is slowly but surely being pushed into a corner with fewer means of maintaining its grip on power.

Not only does the perception that Musharraf is being cornered boost his domestic political opponents' confidence, it also begins to rattle Washington, given that the U.S.-led global war against terrorism depends heavily on Musharraf being both the driver and navigator for Pakistan. Musharraf's approach to staying ahead of the political curve has involved leveraging his domestic position to enhance his international standing and vice-versa; so this turn of events places him in a critical spot in which opponents will force him to concede to their demands if he cannot regain the upper hand at home -- rendering him unfavorable to Washington. Losing his standing with Washington will then have a boomerang effect at home

Terror On High Seas

Via CNN, Pirates seize Indian vessel with 25 aboard

If ever there was time for our navy to flex its blue water muscle, this is surely it.

Curzonian World View

I refer to a lengthy article by Parag Khanna and Raja Mohan dated February 13, 2006. It is an effort to convince the American policy audience to take India seriously. A shorter, more succinct report around a single theme would have been more effective. Indian foreign policy should speak for itself. This said, there were a few paragraphs of note. I reproduce just one given its insights in an otherwise rambling note.

"The perceived distinction between India's non-aligned past and alliance-oriented future is a complex one.........There has been a continuous trajectory toward a diplomatic posture which is perhaps best described as "neo-Curzonian," after the British imperial viceroy and player of the 'Great Game', Lord George Curzon. Ironically, India's neo-Curzonian world-view is the logical heir to one of the nation's strategic texts, Kautilya's fourth-century B.C. Arthashastra, which locates India at the nucleus of concentric rings of potential friends and foes. A neo-Curzonian foreign policy is premised on the logic of Indian centrality, permitting multi-directional engagement - or 'multi-alignment' - with all major powers and seeking access and leverage from East Africa to Pacific Asia. Such a forward foreign policy emphasizes the revival of commercial cooperation; building institutional, physical and political links with neighboring regions to circumvent buffer states; developing energy supplies and assets; and pursuing multi-state defense agreements and contracts. Today, India has recovered this 360-degree vision, looking west to boost investment from Europe and the Persian Gulf, north to secure stable energy supplies from Central Asia (including Iran), and east for partnerships and free trade agreements with South Korea and Australia. It engages actively in regional fora......while not shying away from potential strategic competition...."

The reference to Lord Curzon is an interesting one. He was Viceroy of India from 1898 to 1905. He focused on India's frontiers, toured the Persian Gulf, and despatched a successful mission to Tibet to frustrate Chinese ambitions. Curzon had authored three books in the late 1800s i.e. (i) Russia in Central Asia; (ii) Persia and the Persian Question; and (iii) Problems of the Far East. Lord Curzon took an avid interest in Tibet, Central Asia, the Persian Gulf and the Far East. He helped consolidate imperial suzerainty in Hong Kong, Malaya, Burma and Aden.

The British presence in Malaya ensured its control of the Straits of Malacca while Aden overlooked the Red Sea. He established a garrison of Indian troops in Lhasa. Afghanistan, Bhutan, Nepal and Sikkim were brought under imperial "protection". Bahrain and Kuwait also became British protectorates. Britain ruled the sea and shaped events deep inside the Asian landmass.

Reference to Henry Kissinger might be relevant here. He wrote in the September 19, 1988 issue of Newsweek, "At the same time, India will play an increasingly international role. Its goals are analogous to those of Britain east of the Suez in the 19th century - a policy essentially shaped by the Viceroy's office in New Delhi. It will seek to be the strongest country in the subcontinent, and will attempt to prevent the emergence of a major power in the Indian Ocean or South East Asia. What ever the day to day irritations between New Delhi and Washington, India's geopolitical interests will impel it over the next decade to assume some of the security functions now exercised by the United States."

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Failed State, Deceptive Military

We've long railed against the role of Pakistani military in the collapse of that society. By conjuring up images of an Islamist takeover of their nuclear prowess, Pakistani Generals have long fooled the world and smothered democracy at home. It's time their bluff is called.

In a new Carnegie Policy Brief, Pakistan: The Myth of an Islamist Peril , Visiting Scholar Frederic Grare argues that the risk of an Islamist takeover in Pakistan is a myth invented by the Pakistani military to consolidate its hold on power. In fact, religious political parties and militant organizations are manipulated by the Pakistani Army to achieve its own objectives, domestically and abroad. The army, not the Islamists, is the real source of insecurity on the subcontinent. Sustainable security and stability in the region will be achieved only through the restoration of democracy in Pakistan.

Grare suggests that the West should actively promote the demilitarization of Pakistan’s political life through a mix of political pressure and capacity building. Enlarging the pool of elites and creating alternative centers of power will be essential for developing a working democracy in Pakistan.

Failing State, Successful Society

M J Akbar writes the following about the Best Bakery and Jessica Lal matters:

Delhi is the world’s largest glasshouse: who shall throw the first stone? But there comes a moment when you no longer care whether the glasshouse remains intact or shatters. If that glasshouse is going to protect the killers at Best Bakery or the murderer of Jessica Lal, then it is time it got shattered into smithereens. Civil society rose in both instances. It threw stone after stone in the Best Bakery matter, rousing the conscience and the best instincts of the highest judiciary. It rose again in the matter of Jessica Lal, and the Delhi High Court has taken the initiative.

Both these cases illustrate our incredibly complex India everywhere. Fareed Zakaria notes:

A famous Indian once put it eloquently, "A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance."

Those words, which Indians of a certain generation know by heart, were spoken by the country's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, just after midnight, on Aug. 15, 1947, when independent India was born. What Nehru was referring to, of course, was the birth of India as an independent state. What is happening today is the birth of India as an independent society—boisterous, colorful, open, vibrant and, above all, ready for change. India is diverging from its past, but also from most other countries in Asia. It is not a quiet, controlled, quasi-authoritarian country that is slowly opening up according to plans. It is a noisy democracy that has finally empowered its people economically. In this respect India, one of the poorest countries in the world, looks strikingly similar to the world's wealthiest country, the United States of America. In both places, society has triumphed over the state.

This is perhaps the central paradox of India today. Its society is open, eager, confident and ready to take on the world. But its state—its ruling class—is far more hesitant, cautious and suspicious of the changed realities around it ...

.. and anachronistically feudal, to boot. If the Indian State continues failing our increasingly successful society, the former risks becoming irrelevant -- and eventually being swept away. This would be a 21st century liberal revolution (liberal in the classic sense!) and a majestic Indian counterpoint to 20th century's illiberal revolutions in Europe and China.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Terrorism Watch

Via the Pakistani daily, The Nation, columnist Humayun Gauhar writes an open letter to President Bush -- a rambling note of frustration with the strengthening Indo-US partnership.

He closes with the following bizarre assertion:

Al Qaeda is a US creation and the US provides grist to its mills. You are obsessed with Osama Bin Laden, but so what if you get him? Do you think that after the media hype dies down "terrorism" will disappear? Al Qaeda is but a movement and Osama its symbol - call him metaphor if you like. The movement is amorphous, comprising many different independent cells and groups, like beads strung together into a deadly necklace by the common thread of injustices against Muslims. It bears repetition, remove the thread and the beads will fall down. Don't, and more beads will be added to the necklace.

This from a respectable figure in Pakistan. No wonder his unruly country is viewed with profound suspicion in the free world.

Update: Via Washington Post, Ahmad Rashid, laments about why Osama bin Laden is welcome in Pakistan.

Good Morning, Bihar!

Via BBC, The amazing DIY village FM radio station

On a balmy morning in India's northern state of Bihar, young Raghav Mahato gets ready to fire up his home-grown FM radio station.

Hundreds of villagers, living in a 20km (12 miles) radius of Raghav's small repair shop and radio station in Mansoorpur village in Vaishali district, tune their $5 radio sets to catch their favourite station.

After the crackle of static, a young, confident voice floats up the radio waves. "Good morning! Welcome to Raghav FM Mansoorpur 1! Now listen to your favourite songs," announces anchor and friend Sambhu into a sellotape-plastered microphone surrounded by racks of local music tapes.

For the next 12 hours, Raghav Mahato's outback FM radio station plays films songs and broadcasts public interest messages on HIV and polio, and even snappy local news, including alerts on missing children and the opening of local shops.

Raghav and his friend run the indigenous radio station out of Raghav's thatched-roof Priya Electronics Shop.

Standing Athwart History

Conservative uber-ideologue William Buckley described his then-nascent political idea with these iconic 1955 words: Conservatism is about standing athwart history, yelling stop.

Neo-conservatism is more ambitious -- not satisfied with building dams on history's torrent, it seeks to power changes in history's flow.

In Iraq, these sibling ideas, clashed loudly. Neoconservative America smashed through the conservative dam (of geopolitical realism) that, for decades, held back Arabian rage under dictator thumbs.

After Samarra, it's (alas) increasingly difficult to believe that American power will successfully hold back, or alter, the flow of Arabian rage. Conservative icon Mr. Buckley asserts the obvious in It Didn't Work. Neoconservative pioneer Francis Fukuyama has thrown in his towel and looks at the world After Neoconservatism.

We remain absolutely convinced about neoconservatism's valid purpose in Iraq. We fault a poorly waged war for America's crisis in that country. Either way, the Iraq project is in trouble.

This takes us to the tricky Indo-US negotiation over nuclear collaboration. Mr. Bush has wagered pretty much all his political capital on Iraq. With Iraq in flames, and barely a year or so before he is completely lame duck, he needs to create a positive legacy for his presidency.

Because, as Fareed Zakaria notes, India could be for Mr. Bush what China was for Mr. Nixon, the Indo-US deal is his spectacular sleeper shot at a legacy. It's hard to believe, therefore, that the deal will go down.

The problem is that Mr. Bush's Iraq failure has caused his own party to begin separating from him. India can't really count on him to deliver the deal through Congress.

Indians understand these conflicting dynamics. Because Mr. Bush needs India, we should drive the hardest bargain possible -- as we are. Because US Congress remains still to be wooed, we should keep their sensitivities in mind as we shape the agreement. (What China did or did not do is irrelevant here -- we couldn't care less about aping China, as some would have us do. India has to chart its own course, consistent with history as we find it.)

One last point. Indian opponents of the deal have been busy talking about "national interest". By implication, they've suggested that pro-deal Indians are close to sacrificing India's best interest. This is an unacceptable canard. Policy disagreement is one thing -- questioning our fidelity to national interest is way beyond bounds. National interest is not the preserve of protectionist anti-Americans alone. They better watch their rhetoric.

Instead, standing athwart history, India should yell out her welcome next week to President Bush and the Indo-American deal.

Negotiating the Nuclear Deal

Cynical Nerd published an analytical piece today contrasting the proposed Indo-United States nuclear deal with the earlier concluded Sino-United States nuclear deal. He argues that China drove a much harder bargain and achieved more favorable terms in its negotiations with the United States.

International relations are fluid and ever changing. There are no eternal verities in foreign affairs. The United States will not remain the sole undisputed super power for long given the sheer costs of its engagement in the Middle East. China is an emerging power on India's eastern horizon and had sponsored Pakistan's nuclear program in the 1980s with a far sighted objective to contain India. Indian decision makers will need to keep this in mind always.

India appears to have agreed to throw upon several of its nuclear reactors to the international inspection regime. Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States did not make similar concessions in the past. This is an unequal nuclear regime. India should not foreclose options in haste to close a nuclear deal. In a transient international environment, New Delhi will need to retain defence policy choices at a future date.

Brazil, Niger and South Africa have vast uranium reserves. India should consider innovative foreign policy tools to leverage those reserves for its national interest. It can also learn a lot from Chinese resolve to maintain national interest at all costs when negotiating an international treaty. It is time to reflect on options and steely national determination as Indian and American negotiators place the finishing touches on the nuclear deal in the next day or two.

Nigeria Riots

Nigeria, a federation of 130 million people, has been wrecked by religious riots once again. More than 10,000 people had died in religious violence since 1999 when the predominantly Muslim northern states began to enforce Shari'ah law. Nigeria is evenly divided between Muslims in the north, and a mix of Christians and animist in the south. Both Islam and Christianity as practiced in Nigeria include a fair dose of traditional African tribal religious beliefs. The last major riots occurred two years ago when more than 700 persons, largely Christian, died in Muslim mob attacks. The religious unrest this year started last week when Muslim crowds, angered by the controversial Mohammed cartoons, demolished 30 Christian churches and killed 30 Christians in the north. Revenge attacks in predominantly Christian Ibo territory in south quickly ensued with many more Muslims murdered. This led to counter-attacks in the north with the death toll rising further and 15 more churches set on fire. At least 140 people had died in 7 days of religious violence. Perhaps 10,000 have been left homeless.

The religious violence masks deeper tensions. Much of Nigeria's oil wealth is in the south. Should the south opt to secede, the predominantly Muslim north would be stripped of rich hydrocarbon revenue and access to the sea. Much of the country's commercial infrastructure and educated manpower is in the south. The northern Hausa states, heirs to the medieval Islamic principalities of Kano, Maiduguri, Sokoto and Zaria, would then be landlocked and transformed into an impoverished region much like Chad and Niger. With the growing desertification of the Sahel, the prospects look bleak. However, the Nigerian military is largely Hausa in composition and is likely to prevent any such secession. The predominantly Christian Ibos had attempted to secede between 1967 and 1970 which the northern military had crushed with unparalleled ferocity. The Biafran famine was a man made one where the Ibos died in the tens of thousands.

Nigeria is but a geographic expression. It lacks a cultural underpinning for broader unity. British rule united 356,700 square miles in territory only in 1914. Nigeria became an independent state in 1960. The process of nation building has proved to be difficult. Political uncertainty is aggravating religious and tribal rivalries. Rebels in the oil producing south have waged a three month campaign of attacks and kidnappings against the oil industry. This has reduced exports and driven up oil prices. Meanwhile, President Olesegun Obasanjo, a Born Again Christian, is seeking to amend the constitution to enable him to run for an unprecedented third term. The future is uncertain for Nigeria.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Superpower, maybe.

Inspite of star witnesses turning hostile, we have a conviction in the Best Bakery case.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

War In Serendip

Via BBC, New Sri Lanka peace talks begin

Sri Lankan officials and Tamil Tiger rebels have begun meeting in the Swiss city of Geneva for their first face-to-face talks in three years.

The focus of two days of talks is to boost a threadbare four-year truce. Mounting violence in recent months has raised fears of a return to civil war.

The BBC's Imogen Foulkes in Geneva says diplomats are playing down hopes the talks can achieve anything more than restoring some stability in Sri Lanka.

"If they fail, I really do believe there will be war," an unnamed European diplomat is quoted as saying by Reuters.

Since we don't believe any sustainable peace is possible with the terrorist Tigers at the helm of Sri Lankan Tamil politics, we consider a decisive war that finally ends their brutal regime a superior option to yet another phony "peace". In this sense, the Geneva talks are actually counterproductive.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Superpower, eh?

Via Newindpress, Nine accused in Jessica Lall murder case walk free

A country that cannot provide justice for a young woman murdered publicly is, at best, a pretend superpower.

Paraphrasing Thomas Paine, these are the moments -- when modern India stands impotent before its feudal twin -- that try men's souls.

Shame on the Indian State.

More On Cartoons

Two separate critiques.

One, our friend Amit has weighed in on the cartoon controversy coming out in support of the indefensible Flemming Rose who began this saga by publishing the horrible cartoons, and Glenn Reynolds who mistakenly thinks publishing them on his blog is a sign of his free speech machismo.

We respect Amit a lot but are astonished by his take on the matter. He closes by citing MadMan who argues that tolerance doesn't mean that just because you hold an opinion, we are obliged to respect it. We, on our part, are also perfectly entitled to treat your beliefs with utter contempt and consider you a loon for having them.

Fair enough. In that case, if the cartoonist has the right to deliberately offend Muslims -- and this non-Muslim blogger -- surely we have the right to be offended and hold him in utter contempt. That we defend his right to free expression does not ipso facto mean we stand with him in his exercise of his contemptible expression. Flemming Rose, Glenn Reynolds and now, alas, Amit have done exactly that by trying to pooh pooh his offense.

One final point. Many of us are not offended because Mohammad was portrayed in a cartoon; the offense is in that he was caricatured as a terrorist. Those who don't consider this offensive are certainly entitled to their opinions -- but, please do not insinuate that others' taking offense to this are somehow, as Mr. Rose argues, enforcing Muslim taboos on non-Muslims. This is outrageous to the extreme and demeans logic.

Two, a couple of non-entities have issued murderous fatwas in UP. They should be tried for incitement just as the UP minister who has incited people to murder the cartoonist.

More disturbing than their lunacy is the puzzling condemnation of these fatwas by the so-called moderate Muslim leadership. Sample this:

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) said the fatwa had no meaning.

AIMPLB legal adviser Zararyab Jilani told IANS: "The board has nothing to do with these fatwas; but even if we consider that the Shariat does prescribe death penalty for anyone committing blasphemy with the name of the Prophet, such a fatwa would have legal sanctity only in a country governed by Islamic law."

Is Mr. Jilani really implying that death penalty for offensive speech would be OK but for the fact that India does not follow Islamic law? Wow! This is a rather technically construed condemnation -- surely there are Muslim leaders who can find the courage to condemn these fatwa-issuing idiots without legalistic contortions? Are there any?

More by Nitin here.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Cartoon Controversy

Writing in National Review's generally sensible The Corner, Andrew Stuttaford draws attention to the incitement by UP minister Muhammad Yaqoob Qureshi. Mr. Stuttaford issues the following call to action:

Reactions, and indictments, please, from Denmark -- and India. Incitement is incitement is incitement. No buts.

This blog agrees with Mr. Stuttaford on the nature of Mr. Qureshi's offence -- we have, in fact, ourselves called for the minister to be tried for incitement.

But, we also want to make clear our disdain for the arrogance of the likes of Mr. Stuttaford. His suggestion that Denmark indict an Indian minister is ludicrous. Only India has the power to act here, as it should, not because we care much for the feelings of the bigoted Danish cartoonist or of his irresponsible supporters in the West, but because in India we do not threaten with murder even those for whom we reserve our maximum contempt. This is about Indian values -- Denmark is irrelevant to this.

Those meriting our contempt include not only the Danish cartoonist who started this bigotry train but also the Danish Government that declined to even give audience to its Muslim citizens and all such media and bloggers who have chosen to publish the bigoted filth that these cartoons represent. Freedom of expression comes with an expectation of responsibility -- the callous abdication of this by some in the West is a discredit to their otherwise great civilization.

We are neither Muslim nor have sympathy for jihadists, Islamists, and even the so-called "moderate Muslims" who are too scared to practice their moderation. But, equally, we Indians are not of the West and do not subscribe to the latter's constant tendency to diminish and ridicule non-Western cultures -- Indians know this Western trait well from our history.

This is why, while harshly rejecting the Islamist incitement and violence that has followed, we decline to endorse the contemptible Danish, European, and Western arrogance on this issue.

Our position in itself is worth little except that we are among the small number of Indians who've aggressively supported the West in its war on terror, war in Iraq, and in face of withering criticism, strategic Indo-US engagement. That we are upset should mean at least something to even the most myopic of Western commentators such as Mr. Stuttaford. Of course, given the nature of their blinding arrogance, it likely won't.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Terrorism Watch

Via Indian Express, Rs 51-crore reward for Danish cartoonist's head, says UP Minister

The Minister for Minority Welfare and Haj in the Mulayam Singh Yadav government, Haji Yaqoob Qureishi, has announced a cash reward of Rs 51 crore for anyone who beheads the Danish cartoonist who caricatured Prophet Mohammad.

When contacted, UP Principal Secretary, Home, Alok Sinha told The Indian Express: "The minister's reaction was the voice of someone whose religious sentiments have been hurt. Moreover, since the reference was to a person who is far off, there is no question of an FIR being lodged against the minister."

However, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board member and Naib Imam of Aishbagh Idgah, Maulana Khalid Rasheed Firangi Mahali, criticized the Minister's call for the killing of the cartoonist.

Yaqoob Qureishi, a third-rate loser, should be tried for soliciting murder and terrorism. India must not tolerate people who spout such garbage as Ministers in our governments.

The disgraceful defense of this terror-enabler by the UP Government merits wide-spread condemnation.

As a native of UP, and as one who has aggressively condemned the bigoted cartoons in question, this blogger is appalled by the cynical spinelessness of the state government. Its spokesperson, Alok Sinha, should be immediately fired.

Inner Mongolia

Mongolia traditionally included Outer Mongolia - now an independent republic - with an area of 604,000 square miles and Inner Mongolia with an area of 455,480 square miles. This landlocked territory was the epicenter of the largest ever contiguous empire in history under Genghis Khan in the 13th century. It was a part of the Mongol-Turkic Central Asian steppes. The Mongol tribes produced leaders whose forces expanded into Burma, China, India, Iran, Russia and Tibet.

The land was the focus of Sino-Russian rivalry since the 17th century. Qing dynasty China annexed Inner Mongolia in 1636 CE and Outer Mongolia in 1691 CE. Outer Mongolia broke away in 1911 although the Chinese briefly recaptured it in 1919 during the Russian civil war. Soviet intervention in 1921 led to the expulsion of the Chinese and the establishment of an independent republic in Outer Mongolia.

The Chinese continued to administer Inner Mongolia until 1937 when De Wang - a Mongol prince - declared independence under Japanese sponsorship. The defeat of Japan in World War 2 in 1945 witnessed the emergence of multiple political units in Inner Mongolia. Stalin pre-occupied with expanding his hold in Europe just after World War 2 had failed to ensure the merger of Inner Mongolia with Outer Mongolia. The Chinese Red Army consolidated control over Inner Mongolia between 1947 and 1949.

Although Han Chinese had started settling in Inner Mongolia in the late 1800s, there was a huge influx of ethnic Chinese after the establishment of the People's Republic of China. The Han Chinese today constitute 80% of Inner Mongolia's population of 23 million. The remainder is indigenous Mongols. The proportion of Han Chinese is much higher here than in Tibet or East Turkestan/Xinjiang. Inner Mongolia should perhaps be now called Outer China. Beijing transferred two-thirds of the territory of Inner Mongolia to five adjoining traditionally Han Chinese provinces in 1969. It reversed this policy decision in 1979.

Tibet and Inner Mongolia have a shared religious identity that acknowledges the leadership of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama. The Red Army had destroyed monasteries and killed several thousand Mongols during the Cultural Revolution. There has since been a resurgence of Tibetan Buddhism in Inner Mongolia. Monasteries have been rebuilt and religious practice revived. The study of Tibetan has been reintroduced in lamaseries. These developments have heightened ethnic consciousness.

Expatriate Mongol groups based in the United States and elsewhere advocate independence for Inner Mongolia. The prospects of secession are nil given the demographic equation. Nevertheless, the territory merits close attention on the part of Indian decision makers. South Bloc has a huge asset in the Dalai Lama, who is the acknowledged spiritual leader of both the Tibetans and the Mongols.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Waging War

Speaking on The Charlie Rose Show today, US defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made a curious observation about Iraq which got us thinking about the philosophy of waging war.

Mr. Rumsfeld spoke about the tension between America's need for sufficient forces in theater to create an environment where Iraqis can reconstruct their nation and the risk of excessive force commitment that alienates them.

We think this tension -- and Mr. Rumsfeld's consequent impulse to carefully calibrate force levels in Iraq -- is a dangerous manifestation of bourgeois sentimentalism that, alas, marks democratic societies. We fear the very idea of unleashing our maximum dogs of war.

In truth, it's impossible to calibrate with precision the consequences of the blunt instrument that war is. It's precisely this reason why war should be a last resort. Responsible governments must do all things possible to avert war but, when war becomes inevitable, they must do all things necessary to achieve overwhelming triumph.

Such triumph is not about raising one's flag over the enemy's capital, or toppling his baroque statues, but about destroying his will to power, his expectation of a come-back, and his appetite for continuing the fight. Japan's psychological state after Nagasaki is a perfect example. Such triumph comes not through effete calibration of force, rather through its deliberate over-application.

Then, on the still-warm ashes of the enemy's crushed aspirations, the victor can build his palaces of peace for history to applaud.

This is the lesson of every war won, and lost. It is tragic and amusing that democracies forget this lesson again and again -- because we are brought up with innate aversion to using violence as a device for settling issues. There is a naive sentimentalism at play here -- which while endearing and even acceptable in times of peace, must be set aside when war becomes necessary. Ironically, such peace-driven sentimentality stretches out war and ends up hurting a lot more people than would be the case if war is waged with overwhelming force in the first place.

America ignored this lesson in Iraq -- it failed to crush the will of Iraq's Sunni heartland, and now is struggling to manage a nuisance insurgency. Iraq is not evidence that neo-conservative ideas are utopian and impractical -- rather, it is evidence of the fact the poorly waged wars are seldom easy to win.

Come to think of it, this is not new wisdom at all. Isn't this what Lord Krishna said to Arjun when the latter was struggling with his pathetic sentimentalism rather than doing what a soldier should do -- crush the enemy without remorse?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

India's Civic Identity

The Indian Republic is approximately 1,262,000 square miles in territory. It has a population of 1,100 million people. Its institutional inheritance and shared civic norms help unite a varied and heterogeneous land.

Independent India is premised on a civic identity. This includes its institutions, its constitution, the rule of law and due process. The emphasis is on liberty, equality and individual rights. The institutions include the Indian administrative service - once the steel arm of empire, the Indian army, the Indian judiciary, the Indian railway and the Indian print media. The Indian middle class of 300 million further strengthens national cohesion. This focus on the civic rather than on race or religion distinguishes India from its neighbors. The accent is on liberal political values.

This civic identity has been under threat since the late 1960s, first by the super-imposition of language-based administrative units and then caste-based public sector recruitment.

British India had multi-ethnic administrative units such as the Bengal, Bombay and Madras Presidencies. The princely states of Hyderabad, Kashmir and Travancore were also multi-ethnic. Administrative units demarcated by language were only created in the late 1960s. This included Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, Kerala, Maharashtra, the 7 states of the North East and the Punjab.

The Indian constitution did not envisage caste-based affirmative action as a permanent fixture either. The original intent was to introduce caste-based reservations for a limited duration of time to address legitimate issues of social justice and to then jettison it in the mid 1960s. The unanticipated continuation and extension of caste-based reservations to a whole slew of non-scheduled castes and tribes only began in the late 1960s.

Fortunately, the politics of language have receded. Caste politics have also stabilized despite pockets of Maoist violence. The current administration now plans to use religion as a yardstick to apportion public and private resources.

The Government intends to introduce reservations in the public sector for Muslims, support religious minority schools, assess the religious composition of the military and survey the socio-economic conditions of Muslims in different parts of the country in order to design a religion-based affirmative action package. Efforts are underway to over-rule the Supreme Court's recent ruling on the Illegal Migrants Determination Act. These initiatives will further undermine the civic identity of the Indian state.

The Congress party hopes to gain electoral advantage in doing so. However, this short-sighted policy will only lead to the resurgence of religion-based politics, one that will sweep the party away. It is time to revert to the original vision of the Indian constitution. The emphasis should be on civic norms and institutions, not ascriptive definitions of race, caste and religion.

The Behzti Saga

Christie Davies revisits the riot that ended the production of Behzti at the Birmingham Rep at the end of 2004 and the text of the play - and finds a very poor play and a public relations disaster for British Sikhs.

Link courtesy: The Social Affairs Unit (UK) & National Review

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Softening Of India

Via Times of India, A 'cool off' time for CBSE examinees

"From this year onwards, CBSE (Central Board Of Secondary Education) will provide an additional 15 minutes to help students relax and bring a near synchronisation in speed and accuracy while answering questions," said CBSE Chairman Ashok Ganguly.

Under the new system, the examination will start at 10:30 am but students will be given question papers along with sealed answer sheets at 10:15 am.

"For the next 15 minutes, students can fill up the cover page details including their respective roll numbers and utilise the time to carefully read the question papers that will have an average 24 to 28 questions," Ganguly told reporters.

"It will not only help lakhs of students to de-stress themselves but also in planning answers that require application and creativity."

Why not neck massages while we are at it? And this is not for the really competitive IIT-JEE -- rather for the somewhat basic CBSE exam. Our much vaunted young men & women are clearly going soft.

Lunacy Watch

Via CBC, 3 dead in renewed cartoon violence in Pakistan

Enough said.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Sri Lanka

Time magazine writes about An Island on the Edge

Says a European diplomat in Colombo: "Killing is how Sri Lanka does politics."

More European Bigotry

Via Hindustan Times, Now, Durga shown endorsing whisky

A disco bar in Greece has invited angry reactions from Indian community by prominently displaying a poster of goddess Durga promoting a whisky brand.

Large posters inside and outside the Balon Oriental Disco Bar in Athens depict the goddess carrying bottles of Southern Comfort Whisky.

“The Indian community in Athens has been trying for the last three months to have the posters removed. But they have totally ignored us,” says Paramjit Singh, originally from Jalandhar, now settled in Greece.

Simply outrageous.

Idiocy Watch

Hindu hard-liners threaten Indian couples over Valentine's Day

United States-India Strategic Partnership

India tested the nuclear device in 1974 and in 1998. It enunciated a strategic doctrine in 1999 that entailed a (i) no first-use policy; (ii) a policy of minimum credible deterrence; (iii) a moratorium on nuclear testing; and (iv) strict adherence to the international nuclear nonproliferation regime. The nuclear tests had provided India with immense strategic wherewithal and transformed it into a significant player in the international realm. Many in the United States began to view India in a different light despite the earlier history of suspicion and distrust.

The United States and India have since derived a strategic commonality. There has been a congruence in perspectives vis-a-vis the threat posed by China as a "super-power in waiting", the Islamist challenge to global stability and shared democratic values. Some American strategists envision India as a potential key ally along with Australia, Britain, Canada and Japan. There is talk of the United States offering India F-16s, increased cooperation in outer space in terms of launch vehicles and satellites, and the provision of Patriot and Arrow missiles. The United States-India nuclear deal, as initially conceptualized in July, 2005 fell into the same vision of strategic congruence. The proposed nuclear deal entailed American support to help meet Indian energy needs.

The American assistance was premised on the understanding that India in turn needed to fulfill its role as a responsible nuclear power. This reportedly entailed the requirement to (a) separate its military and civilian nuclear facilities; (b) throw open its civilian nuclear facilities to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency; and (c) legally commit to the international nonproliferation regime. So far so good.

However, the proposed deal necessitates Congressional approval. The United States will need to revise existing legislation to waive restrictions on the transfer of nuclear technology to states that are not party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The bottlenecks arise at this point. The United States and India are both democracies with multiple interest groups and ideological viewpoints. Neither country has a monolithic policy environment.

Several non-proliferation ayatollahs in the United States Congress, the Department of State, think tanks and academic institutions harbor a deep suspicion of India that go back to the years of the cold war. There are entrenched pockets of skepticism at India's nuclear ambitions. Such ideologues insist that the United States not reward those countries which had violated the nonproliferation treaty.

The Bush administration, it appears, has been compelled to shift goal posts since the initial announcement of the planned United States-India nuclear deal in July, 2005. Press reports suggest that it now demands that India designate most of its nuclear facilities as "civilian nuclear facilities" open to international inspection. There is intense pressure for India to cap its production of fissile material. There are increased calls that India place its fast breeder reactors and pressurized heavy water reactions under the international safeguards regime. Fast breeder reactors produce five times the fissile material as conventional reactors.

The new demands are intended to ensure speedy ratification of the proposed nuclear deal by the United States Congress. However, they would also roll back and cap India's nuclear capability. This is clearly unacceptable. Many Indian decision makers are justifiably alarmed by the sudden demands given the history of the United States going back on its earlier word to supply fuel to the Tarapur nuclear plant, exerting pressure on the Narasimha Rao administration to cancel the planned nuclear tests in the early 1990s, and blocking Russia from providing cryogenic engines to India.

The United States has 140 nuclear power, test and research reactors of which only 4 are international safeguards. China has only two nuclear facilities under international safeguards. India already has 4 nuclear reactors out of a total of its 23 reactors under international inspection. Of the 915 nuclear facilities worldwide under international safeguards, only 11 belong to the five "nuclear powers". This is an illustration of double standards. India will need to exercise caution before designating an entire slew of reactions as civilian facilities placed under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. India can not place the fast breeder reactor under international inspection. The civilian power reactors that feed these with plutonium can not be placed under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards either.

India perhaps has 31% of the world's known deposits of thorium. This is the world's highest thorium reserves and would allow India to eventually achieve energy independence and increase its stockpile of fissile material. India might have additional reserves of Uranium as well given recent discoveries in Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Meghalaya. India is already a defacto nuclear weapons state.

The Manmohan Singh administration had negotiated in stealth given the sensitivity of the issues at hand. This had inadvertently served to reinforce the fear amongst several Indians that the proposed deal would be a sell out. It is clear that more debate, discussion and thought will need to go into the proposed United States-India nuclear deal. Given policy reservations in both camps, it is entirely possible that the nuclear deal will not be finalized anytime soon.

However, all is not lost. Continued cooperation in the strategic realm is inevitable. This is not a make or break deal. India's need for civilian nuclear power will remain. The need to delink its military and civilian nuclear facilities is inevitable. Once delinked, it might well make sense for India to privatize its civilian nuclear facilities and reduce the monopoly of the Department of Atomic Energy. Meanwhile, America's interest in seeing a strong India counter-balance China will not change either.

I see no reason to rush things. India will need to drive a hard bargain before the current draft of the nuclear deal is finalized. There can not be any short cuts and there can not be a cap in the production of fissile materials as yet given current levels of nuclear stockpiles in India. It will need to ensure nuclear parity with Britain and France given the real threat at its northern frontier.

The country is fortunate to have Dr. Abdul Kalam, a pre-eminent scientist, as President of the Republic. One can be reassured therefore that no decision will be made that will compromise India's long term interest under his watch.

The Next POTUS?

It's early yet to predict who will emerge the next President of the United States.

Still, keen observers are taking notes.

In our mind, Mark Warner (recently retired governor of Virginia) is the clear front-runner.

He is a democrat governor from a predominantly republican state. Post-Kennedy in 1960, only southern democrat governors (Carter, Clinton) have won the presidency, while multiple northern senators have lost. Even Kennedy won by taking on Lyndon Johnson from Texas as his running mate.

Warner is a fresh face, very attractive speaker, immensely competent, and wildly popular in conservative Virginia. Needless to say, his appeal can overcome the stale red-blue divide that's marked the last two elections. We think he can beat anyone republicans can put up in opposition.

With a running mate from Pennsylvania or Ohio, Mr. Warner can take the presidency quite easily. Mrs. Clinton will have money -- but nothing quite like this winning formula.

We are usually pro-republican -- but, at this early stage, our money is on Mark Warner.

Puzzling Supreme Court Ruling

Via BBC, India media ban over 'toxic' ship

India's supreme court has temporarily banned all demonstrations and media articles on the decommissioned French aircraft carrier, the Clemenceau.

The ban runs until Friday and anyone breaking it will be held in contempt of court, Judge Arijit Pasayat said.

"We are shocked to find demonstrations are held and articles written, and if anyone is found to be doing so, he should prima facie be held for contempt of court and suitable action be taken against him," Judge Arijit Pasayat told the court.

We are confused by this ruling. Does India's Supreme Court really have the authority to preempt even peaceful exercise of democracy -- i.e., demonstrations over a particular matter or press reports about the same? Or is this ruling one more example of judicial overreach which -- unfortunately -- is not atypical in India?

Can someone who understands Indian law please explain this to us.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Europe And India

Europe has been on our radar lately for its pathetic cultural and economic bigotry.

In this context, Fareed Zakaria's Newsweek column on The Decline and Fall of Europe is worth reading.

The decline of Europe means a world with a greater diffusion of power and a lessened ability to create international norms and rules of the road. It also means that America's superpower status will linger. Think of the dollar. For years people have argued that it is due for a massive drop as countries around the world diversify their savings. But as people looked at the alternatives, they decided that the chief rivals, the euro and the yen, represented economies that were structurally weak. So they have reluctantly stuck with the dollar. It's a similar dynamic in other arenas. You can't beat something with nothing.

Given this dynamic, myopic critics of the Indo-US strategic partnership -- a key pillar of which is the nuclear deal -- ought to think carefully about their position. Instead of watching history from the sidelines by taking yet another isolationist detour, India has the opportunity to partner with the sole superpower to actively shape such history.

That's what we are talking about here. If the nuclear deal goes down, this opportunity will sustain enormous political damage. Will our political left take the responsibility for this outcome? Our religious right? Our Lilliputian neighbors seeking to tie down India? Of course not. None of these groups have ever done anything valuable for India -- this is hardly the time to start listening to their petty politicking.

As Europe falls, India can rise -- and, as we've noted previously, America can be our ally in this. This is a real delicious gift of globalization. Let's negotiate hard with America but, please, not blow this singular opportunity.

Finally, We Have Winter!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Disgrace In Indonesia

Via BBC, Danes in Indonesia 'under threat'

While the cartoons in question were clearly bigoted, the violence in response is barbaric.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan comes to mind:

bas hamein shaikh ji aap jaise
Allah walon se Allah bachaye

Update: Read also Nonie Darwish in The Telegraph We were brought up to hate - and we do (link courtesy: National Review)

It's time for Arabs and Muslims to stand up for their families. We must stop allowing our leaders to use the West and Israel as an excuse to distract from their own failed leadership and their citizens' lack of freedoms. It's time to stop allowing Arab leaders to complain about cartoons while turning a blind eye to people who defame Islam by holding Korans in one hand while murdering innocent people with the other.

Muslims need jobs - not jihad. Apologies about cartoons will not solve the problems. What is needed is hope and not hate. Unless we recognise that the culture of hate is the true root of the riots surrounding this cartoon controversy, this violent overreaction will only be the start of a clash of civilizations that the world cannot bear.

100 Million Missing Women

New York Times magazine carries a fascinating report on controversial research that pins at least some of the blame for the developing world's missing women on Hepatitis B virus -- not, as is conventional wisdom, exclusively on gender discrimination.

In a deeply disturbing essay in The New York Review of Books in 1990, the economist and future Nobel laureate Amartya Sen laid bare some brutal math. Because of biological advantages in fighting disease, women typically outnumbered men in fully developed countries, with about 105 women for every 100 men. And yet in developing countries like China and India, there were only about 94 women for every 100 men. The women seemed to have vanished into thin air. What was happening? As a first step toward unraveling the mystery, Sen decided to compute how many women would have been alive in parts of Asia and North Africa had their countries' sex ratios matched those of the developed West. The math shocked the world: more than 100 million women were missing.

In the summer of 2004, a 24-year-old Harvard graduate student in economics named Emily Oster was reading Baruch S. Blumberg's book "Hepatitis B: The Hunt for a Killer Virus." Oster, a tireless number-cruncher, has published research on everything from the decision-making of Powerball players to the correlation between witch trials and rotten weather in Medieval Europe. She was intrigued by several small-scale studies in the Blumberg book that suggested that if either parent was a carrier of the hepatitis B virus, the couple were more likely to have male children. What if nature, wondered Oster, and not the lack of nurture, was behind Sen's 100 million missing women?

Oster crunched the data available for hepatitis B in China, India, Pakistan, Egypt and Bangladesh. Those countries with higher rates of hepatitis B in the 80's, she found, also tended to be the countries with the highest number of missing women. She decided that she had the fuel for what was bound to be a controversial paper.

In December, Oster unveiled her research in The Journal of Political Economy. Working under the assumption that carriers of hepatitis B had 1.5 boys for every 1 girl, she concluded that "hepatitis B can account for about 45 percent of the 'missing women': around 75 percent in China, between 20 and 50 percent in Egypt and western Asia, and under 20 percent in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal."

The Chinese Dragon?

Cynical Nerd shared with me a Der Spiegel article on China. The piece highlights China's meteoric rise and predicts the start of a new Chinese century, one that would replace Pax Americana. The Chinese economy grew at an average annual rate of 9% in the past 25 years while Chinese exports to the United States had climbed 1,200% since 1990. China's foreign exchange reserves are estimated at US$ 710 billion. This is more than India's GDP! The United States trade deficit with China had doubled to US$ 162 billion since 2001. This deficit is poised to widen further in 2006. Der Spiegel adds that 440,000 engineers graduate in China each year, which is more than twice that in the United States.

The article refers to Chinese manufactures of cell phones, refrigerators and computers. Chinese firms purchased the computer wing of IBM, endeavored to buy the home appliance producer Maytag and almost bought over the California-based Unocal oil company, a move that was thwarted due to Congressional opposition in Washington. The Chinese had earlier purchased the Canadian oil firm, Petrokazakhstan, for a hefty sum of US$ 4.2 billion. Der Spiegel mentions that China had transformed bloated state-run companies into hard hitting enterprises while its biggest auto-parts producer, Wanxiang, had sales to the United States that exceeded US$ 400 million each year. It then refers to the "turbocharged breed of unbridled capitalism" poised to dominate international energy markets.

This is indeed an impressive account, one that Indian policy makers need to be mindful of. I would add that the nationalistic zeal in China ensures continued funding of an ambitious space program, investment in defence and success in international sports. The Chinese are investing in international energy, be it in Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Burma, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan and Sudan. China will no doubt be a significant player in international politics while its economy will continue to register high rates of growth. Any traveler to Beijing or Shanghai can not but be impressed at the rise of the Chinese dragon. The contrast with Delhi and Mumbai is evident. However, Der Spiegel misses out on other crucial pieces of the jig saw puzzle where predictions of a new Chinese century might be premature. Here's why.

For one, China lacks the intellectual space for cutting edge research and development. Its education system does not provide for creative innovation and discovery, the development of new technology and scientific breakthrough. It is still dependent on the United States in this respect, be it with regards to aviation, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, software or telecommunications. Like Japan of yesteryear, China excels in the mass manufacture of cheap consumer appliances designed elsewhere, but its system is not well positioned to develop innovative technology.

Two, China lacks the institutional resilience and legal systems that the North Atlantic states enjoy. While its low cost consumer items might have a field day in western markets, the absence of entrenched legal and institutional structures undermines the potential to create, innovate and discover - vital components of the capitalist world.

Three, China's coastal provinces have done extremely well. Fujian, Guangong, Jiangsu and Zhejiang stand out in this regard. Its landlocked interior provinces, however, lag behind in economic and social indicators. Recent accidents in the coal sector illustrate the travails of China's rust belt. The rates of poverty are significant inland. The " Chinese Mezzogiorno" is likely to impede continued economic take off. Vastly differential rates of economic growth between two sections of the same country bode ill for political stability.

Four, I remain skeptical of the overall health of China's banking sector. The state run banks are not subject to the same scrutiny and audit safeguards that financial institutions in the North Atlantic are governed by. Chinese accounting standards have much to be desired. There are reports of double counting and consequent exaggerated revenue figures, not to mention the lack of adequate watchdog functions in the system.

Five, China's restive Tibet and East Turkestan (i.e. Xinjiang in Chinese parlance) are likely to pose problems. Neither territory is ethnic Han Chinese by self-definition and would opt to secede if given the chance. China countered this possibility by settling several hundred thousand Han Chinese in the two regions. But settlers are unlikely to preempt the possibility of secession as witnessed in the recent history of Estonia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Even if Islamist extremism were to fade away, a pan-Turkic consciousness is likely to ensure a modicum of sympathy for the Uighurs in the years to come. Furthermore, the question of Tibet would always remain on the international radar screen as the prime example of Chinese hegemony and imperialism.

And lastly, India, Japan, Taiwan, Russia and Vietnam, economically influential in their own right, will not accept Chinese hegemony. The People's Republic - unlike the United States - is encircled. I mention these factors not to deny the inevitable rise of China. The Chinese economy will continue to grow while its international profile is likely to be further strengthened. But to trumpet the dawn of a new Chinese century might be premature. Der Spiegel should perhaps study Asia more closely.

The Toxic Wasted Deal

DAE chief Anil Kakodkar's recent broadside against the Indo-US nuclear deal is a very significant political moment.

By going public with his reservations, he has robbed Dr. Singh of his legacy -- respect for the deal on which he has staked so much.

If the deal goes down now, Dr. Singh would have been torpedoed by an underling. There are too many ambitious people in the Congress not to see this as an opportunity to try to topple him. There are the Natwar Singhs and Mani Shankar Aiyars of the world who Dr. Singh sidelined, and there is the Iran lobby that Dr. Singh betrayed. With little support from the BJP and the Left, he'll become even more dependent on Mrs. Gandhi's patronage to lead India. The caricature would have become entirely real.

If the deal goes through somehow, his opponents in his party and the vast majority of the opposition will use Dr. Kakodkar's comments to claim the deal was a sell-out. They'll tell India -- heavily propagandized to consider our nuclear scientists as heroes -- not to believe politicians but listen to Dr. Kakodkar and his scientist allies. Who would Indians believe on nuclear issues -- Dr. Singh or Dr. Kakodkar? This is heady stuff on which elections can be wagered. Dr. Singh's legacy would have become toxic waste from its own success.

Dr. Kakodkar is a political villain because he has deliberately destroyed Dr. Singh's leadership. Heads he wins, tails Dr. Singh loses.

This still leaves us the question of the nuclear deal. What are we to make of it now?

Let's understand the big picture. India needs civilian nuclear power and global respectability for its strategic nuclear capability. Absent amendments to the NPT (extremely unlikely), the only path forward is a de facto acceptance as a nuclear state. This is what the deal offers.

But, there is no free lunch. In return for this exceptional status, the nuclear godfathers seek to limit India's strategic capability. In a way, we put ourselves in this box when we proclaimed our interest in a "minimum credible deterrent". Why minimum? This concept -- Mr. Vajpayee's legacy -- is a ridiculous notion. Now that we are stuck with this self-inflicted constraint, America can safely argue we already have a "minimum" deterrent -- why not then cap our strategic capability at this minimum level?

This is the deal that's on the table -- whether or not we like it. The negotiations will not change this overall structure. All they can do is to change, on the margin, what the meaning of the word"minimum" is. To the extent, Dr. Kakodkar was willing to engage in negotiation in the first place, he'd already accepted the notion of limits on our strategic plan. Therefore, his outrage at this late stage is somewhat amusing -- and highly disingenuous.

Personally, we have a problem with Mr.Vajpayee's (and Brajesh Mishra's) notion of "minimum credible deterrent". If it were up to us, we'd have used a language like "maximum possible deterrent".

Then, we'd have leveraged India's expanding place in the world, the profit urges of American nuclear industry salivating to serve India, and the fact that a failed deal now means India will turn away from America again -- at least for one generation -- to cut a more favorable deal for India.

But, India rarely plays up to its strength; we negotiate as if we've already lost. Besides, if the deal goes down for fear of harming our strategic capability, it's not as though we are about to catch China or even Israel in terms of aggregate deterrent capacity with our own efforts.

These are the terrible cards we are dealt. Given this, Dr. Singh's deal is not as terrible an option as some seem to suggest. With this deal, we'll have significantly increased civilian nuclear power, will be accepted in NPT as a de facto (and in international law, de jure) nuclear weapons state, and will retain our minimum credible deterrent. Without this deal, we'll remain in nuclear isolation hence forever dependent on tricky hydrocarbon energy, without respect for our strategic strength, and with the same minimum deterrent as in the other scenario.

Neither option is perfect, or as we'd script it ourselves, but of the two, the first is clearly better. Dr. Singh's legacy may have been poisoned, but he has our full support to conclude the deal. And, oh by the way, he should fire Dr. Kakodkar.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Asian Superpowers

Washington Post's terrific columnist Jim Hoagland writes today about Tales of Asia Rising

This is a tale with two morals: One should always distrust neat symbols that fit handily into preconceived and popularized strategic theories.

The other is that the continental transfer of superpower is no more certain than was the popular "end of history" notion of the past decade. There is no straight line to a new unipolar hegemony in a world in which the fragmentation of state power is common to all regions. It is always more complicated tomorrow than we believe today.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Now They Tell Us

Via New York Times, Low-Fat Diet Does Not Cut Health Risks

This calls for a Jalebi & Samosa party! With fat Coke -- of course!!

On Infidelity

Via Guardian, columnist Zoe Williams points out an interesting conundrum:

Anyway, what this all unleashes is the age-old debate between, on the one hand, people who are loath to judge infidelity too harshly because they're only, you know, human, and on the other, people who think infidelity is inherently misogynistic, since it's always men and they never tell their wives, and the wives can stand by them or leave them but they will always end up weeping in a corner somewhere. Really, it's buyer-beware on either position - if you take the first, you effectively toss out all that most of us have that amounts to a moral position of any kind on anything. If you take the second, you ram home the women-as-victims message that is partly plain wrong, but mainly just annoys me.

Ms. Williams leaves out the possibility of infidelity by women -- but her point remains since even there our natural concern is the victimhood of the innocent spouse. What man likes to be seen as a victim?!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Freedom of Speech, or Not

Given such intense debate on the cartoon row, we'll chime in with our two cents. We don't understand why there is so much confusion around the issue of Freedom of Speech (FOS). Here's how we make the distinction. We think:
  1. Jyllands-Posten has the FOS right to publish the cartoons.
  2. We exercise the same FOS in calling them idiots (or worse) for exercising bad judgment.
  3. Those offended have the FOS right to express verbal outrage or boycott goods.
  4. Burning embassies, rioting, issuing fatwas and demanding bans is not FOS, in fact the opposite.
  5. The Iranian newspaper has the FOS right to publish the Holocaust cartoons.
  6. The rest of us can exercise the same right and dismiss them as idiots, too.
Net, we see much confusion between the exercise of freedom of speech (which the Danish paper did) with the exercise of good judgment (which they didn't). Similarly, there is as much confusion about the verbal outrage (with is in line with FOS) with violent outrage (which is antithetical to FOS).

(Leaving aside high-minded issues like FOS and its limits, the cynical view is that some of the protest is being fueled by Iran and Syria who gain by changing the global agenda and accelerating the clash of civilizations. But that's material for another blog post).

Bigotry Watch

Iran to publish holocaust cartoons

Can anything possibly be more despicable?

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Mick & Sania

Rolling Stones just performed at the Superbowl -- Sir Mick remains timeless & cool!

Then we asked ourselves, is there an Indian -- any Indian -- who carries his/her unrelenting cool like the Stones?

Sania maybe -- among Indians, she alone struts her swagger on the world stage and outcools her billion compatriots. Is anyone else as brash, as tough, and as entirely worthy?

Ideas invited.

Stuck In Our Ancient, Exotic Mud

We are often in awe over the extraordinary recent revolutions in India.

Unlike export-led China, India's economic miracle is largely consumption-led. We haven't had much economic reform, export barely a fraction of what China does, and haven't quite begun investing in infrastructure. Still, Indians feel great about their future; their consumption has spiked accordingly.

This is a cultural revolution of sorts in a humble people long wary of conspicuous consumption.

Another -- likely more significant but less remarked on -- revolution is the notoriously introverted India turning its confident gaze overseas.

Given this new-found interest in the world one might expect our cultural expressions would echo the theme. This is to say, our literature and cinema and theatre should be about Indians sailing abroad -- looking at the world anew with Indian eyes and interpretation.

Instead, our culture remains introverted. The movies we nominate for Oscars, for example, are all about interpeting the exotic -- and often lapsed -- India for foreigners.

The books we sell -- and embarrassingly buy -- are also focused on Indian exoticism and social complexity. The much celebrated Maximum City is a classic case in point. How much more do Indians really need to understand India? Still, the book was a runaway success among India's elite. Had Suketu Mehta written about his life as an Indian in America instead, his book would likely not have been quite as successful.

This blog has long been a critic of contemporary Indian culture -- which invents nothing, has no insight, and offers very little to inspire the world. Our intellectual generation is culturally deficient -- this is why, even as our businesses have gone 21st century and global, our culture remains stuck in our ancient, exotic mud.


New York Times reports, World Nuclear Panel to Refer Iran to U.N. Security Council

In a move that could change the course of international diplomacy towards Iran, the 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency approved a resolution on Saturday to report the country's nuclear case to the United Nations Security Council.The resolution, which passed 27-3 with five abstentions, opens the door for the first time to possible punitive action against Iran in the New York body over fears that it is developing a nuclear weapon.

Cuba, Syria and Venezuela voted against the resolution. Algeria, Belarus, Indonesia, Libya and South Africa abstained.

On January 15th, we'd predicted as follows:

Oh, and by the way, Iran will be referred to the Security Council -- likely unanimously. Why? Because, if everyone casts their vote against Iran, Iran couldn't pick on anyone for retribution.

Well, we didn't get full consensus -- but did get the next best thing. The three no-votes are from countries facing ongoing conflict with the West -- the abstentions, other than South Africa, are not really surprising.

We did get here a consensus (after much posturing) among the world's great powers, including India. This clears the deck for a laser-like focus on the more important US-India Nuclear Deal.

The Unknown Indian vs. European Bigots

Wall Street Journal writes today, admiringly, of Laksmi Mittal.

A takeover of Arcelor would take Mr. Mittal a long way toward realizing his vision of a dominant global steelmaker in an industry for decades characterized, and brought low, by fragmentation. To pull it off, Mr. Mittal needs to break an Old World taboo against takeovers, hostile or otherwise, involving a company dear to Continental protectionists' heart. That this task falls to a man born in Rajasthan, and raised in Calcutta, is one of the more delicious gifts of globalization.

Contrast this favorable attitude of the American conservative establishment with the typical (continental) European bigotry Mr. Mittal is currently enduring.

The attacks on him have been vicious. Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the former French president, warned against giving into economic "laws of the jungle." A former French finance minister referred to Mr. Mittal as "an Indian predator," although his company is traded and based in Europe and he hasn't lived in India for 30 years. Mr. Dollé, the Arcelor boss, said Rotterdam-based Mittal Steel is a "company full of Indians" that wants to buy his with "monnaie de singe." The expression means "monopoly money"--Mittal's offer is mostly shares--but the literal translation is "monkey money." That double-entendre wasn't lost on people.

Let there be no mistake. The arrogant and pathetic Europe is frightened of India -- it's exactly the place where Indians need to feast on as we build up our global power. Given the myopia of their fading years, they see us as a barbarian enemy, and we respectfully -- and with compund interest dating back to the years of their barbaric colonialism -- reciprocate the sentiment. In a long twilight struggle, it's Europe that will eventually bite the dust.

That America will likely be our ally in this, is the real "delicious gift of globalization"!

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Notable Passing

Betty Friedan, 85, author of The Feminine Mystique

She changed the world -- for the better.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Neoconservatives Agree

We consider ourselves neoconservatives and support the ongoing war on terror -- including in Iraq.

Still, a couple days ago, we criticized the blatantly offensive Danish caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad -- and were treated to several surprising responses from people who erroneously think the issue is about freedom of expression.

Now, the aggressively neoconservative US government has echoed our view.

State Department: Cartoons Depicting Muhammad Offensive

This makes all the sense in the world and should give pause to those who are blindly supporting the cause of the cartoonists and their publishers.

Yes, freedom of expression needs to be respected, and violent protests condemned -- but lost in all this discussion is the intrinsic bigotry of the cartoons in question. With the US -- a champion of free expression -- now making its view plain, a whole lot of apologies are in order.

Mindnumbing Music

Via Opinion Journal, Doug Ramsey meditates on music's post-modern ubiquity and the virtues of silence!

As someone who writes about and plays music, I would be the last to disagree with William Congreve that music hath charms. But silence has charms, too, and it's getting hard to find. When Congreve wrote his famous line, circa 1700, people who wanted music had to make it themselves or go find it. The technological revolution in the past century changed that. Now music pursues us in the supermarket, the gas station, The Gap, the dentist's office, the elevator, even the street. That's bad news when I'm trying to think, let alone write. But it's good news when I'm on the NordicTrack; the steady beat of music makes the workout easier. And I'm not the only one who feels this way.

For most of us, physical activity is akin neither to war nor to competition. We use it to promote health, fitness and relaxation. The brain tells the body when to fight or run from danger. Exercise can help the body return the favor by freeing the brain for reflection, a mental commodity in shorter and shorter supply as music occupies every facet of our lives. A solitary run, a friendly tennis match, a few laps in the pool or a long walk can promote contemplation, but we set the mind a difficult task if we keep it saturated with rhythmic pounding. Perhaps that's worth contemplating.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Political Infants

We read with interest about the birth of a new political party, Paritrana, founded by a few recent IIT graduates. It has gotten much press play and buzz in the IIT circles.

With what little information there is to read, the founders seem idealistic, their heart seems to be in the right place, are smart individuals, seem to be people of integrity, and have some relevant experience working for social and political causes. There is also a deep reservoir of discontent, at least among the elites, with the current political choices. All major movements start with a small group of committed individuals, and there may be hope here.

On the flip side, they lack funding or serious backing, and maybe naive in their idealism. It remains to be seen if they have the ability and means to fulfill their vision, or will go down as unrealized potential. Executing on their plan will involve the usual startup challenges, compounded by political intrigue and deeply entrenched vested interests who will stop at nothing, including violence, to retain their power.

We admire their idealism. And we sincerly hope they can execute. They'll need much more than what IIT taught them to win this one.

European Bigots

Recently, Iran's new President Ahmadinejad made a series of repugnant anti-semitic remarks. Most sensible folks the world-over condemned his outrageous behavior.

Our's is a free world and he is the elected leader of a sovereign state. Clearly, he has the right to say what he wishes -- equally, the civilized world has the right to question his judgment and call him a bigot.

Bigotry, however, is not the preserve of middle-eastern dictators alone.

In Denmark, a newspaper recently published a series of caricatures depicting the Prophet Mohammad. One of these apparently even portrayed the Prophet as a terrorist. If the latter does not count as prejudice against a faith, it's not clear what does.

Freedom of expression implies even such repugnant thoughts have a space in our public square. Equally, the Islamic world is entirely within its rights to protest this, likely deliberate, insult.

A boycott of Danish products has ensued in Arabia. This is a market reaction to a public event -- we are entirely fine with this. Free expression, afterall, is sometimes expensive.

Now, a French paper has entered the fray and reprinted the offensive caricatures.

"Because no religious dogma can impose its view on a democratic and secular society, France Soir publishes the incriminated cartoons," the paper said.

France Soir, which is in financial difficulties and looking for a buyer, devoted two inside pages to the Danish cartoons, with editor Serge Faubert unapologetic.

Frankly, this is ridiculously obscene. Mr. Faubert's financially troubled newspaper is ginning up publicity by deliberately offending Muslims, then taking cover under the noble virtues of secularism and free expression. As proponents of secularism and liberty ourselves, we take strong offence to his pathetic -- commercially motivated -- prejudice.

Surely, Mr. Faubert belongs in the same category of bigots as Mr. Ahmadinejad.


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